Lt. Col. Harvey: ‘We Can Never Thank You Enough’

May 7, 2019

WRIGHT TWP. — Welcome home, Lt. Col. James H. Harvey.

Harvey, one of the elite Tuskegee Airmen who helped desegregate the military and win wars, returned to his native Mountain Top on Monday for the first time in decades.

Quite the homecoming at age 95.

Thank you for remembering Northeastern Pennsylvania as a place that gave you — as an African-American in the 1930s and 1940s — a great upbringing without prejudice.

You made us proud, though most in the country didn’t get to hear about your heroic efforts until years, even decades, later.

Some of us are just learning about it now.

You were a trailblazer, being the first black fighter pilot to serve our nation in the Korean War.

We can never thank you enough.

Harvey captivated hundreds of students Monday morning at Crestwood High School during two presentations, telling the story about an African-American boy from all-white Mountain Top who never heard or knew of racism until he was drafted into the military turning World War II in 1943.

“Obstacles you go over, around or through. But you don’t let obstacles stop you ever,” Harvey said.

Harvey’s family moved from New Jersey to Wilkes-Barre in 1930. In 1936, he moved to the Nuangola Station section of Rice Twp.

He later attended Fairview High School, where he was captain of the basketball team. Harvey graduated as class president and valedictorian in 1943.

Then it was off to the military after being drafted.

Harvey ended up at the Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama, set up to appease people who were fighting the military’s ban on African-America pilots.

It was a segregated, all-black program. Top brass didn’t think black people were smart or skilled enough to fly planes, Harvey said.

Harvey told students the program was designed to fail. But he, and others, would not let that happen.

“I was a perfectionist. I didn’t expect anything less than perfection,” Harvey said. “We were highly educated people who wanted to fly and fight for our country.”

The Tuskegee Airmen proved crucial to the efforts of World War II, though many people — not even other white pilots flying beside them — knew they were African American.

Harvey said they were kept “secret.”

“They didn’t want anyone to know about us. We were too successful,” Harvey said.

After he and members of the Tuskegee Airmen won the first-ever “Top Gun” competition held in 1949, the military was finally desegregated, he said.

“We made it work in the military. We were the forerunners of desegregation. We proved it worked. It did work. It’s still working today,” Harvey said.

Thank you. Well done, sir.

Bob Kalinowski is a staff writer for The Citizens’ Voice. He can be reached at bkalinowski@citizensvoice.com.